As rebooted technologies and mainstream visibility spark a new era of fascination with analog synthesizers, a loose underground of synth scientists continue their mission to wring unprecedented sounds from the knobs, switches, and patch bays of their versatile rigs. Stare down the pockmarked geometric chassis of a modular synthesizer in action and you might wonder, “How is this thing responsible for what I’m hearing?” The music of William Selman, composed and performed on a modular synth and augmented by digital and analog processes, amplifies that “sleight of ear” feeling tenfold before buttressing it in cushions of reverb and propelling it into your cerebral cortex by way of hi-fi bass pulses. The tonal control and rhythmic complexity Selman displays on Equatorial Night unify his synth experiments into seamless sessions of electronic performance, animated by moments of disfiguring effect manipulation and gestures culled from the classic studio-as-instrument tradition. Though the term “modular dub” perhaps summarizes the album’s sounds most succinctly, it elides the idiosyncratic sensibilities that highlight Selman’s work within a burgeoning international network of synth explorers. His music eschews cut-and-paste hybridization strategies in favor of new forms that supersede their individual building blocks.
In a testament to its coherence as an extended session, the first measures of “Equatorial Night” sow the rhythmic and tonal seeds that bloom across its whole duration. Skittering beats and chubby basslines spring forth and bump incessantly, slowing evolving with Selman’s live parameter manipulation and gathering harmonic nuances with each repetition. Sustained synth tones interweave in a layer of ambient drift in cooperation/competition with the rhythmic foundation as Selman blasts the occasional phrase into echoed oblivion with patches of dub delay. “Multiplied by Mirrors” lopes at a more urgent pace through a web of truncated bass phrases and yearning melodies. Try to trace the gradual transformation of its interlocked parts up and down a spiral of dynamic drum patterns and filtered whirrs and you run the risk of missing the elegant whole breathing as one unified mass within the cavernous mix. Both halves of Equatorial Night conflate into a manifesto of dynamic modular synthesis, capable of transcending the “limitations” of Selman’s hardware to offer a rigorous cross-germination of styles and ideas.